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First Drive: 2015 Acura TLX [Review]

by Mark Elias

Packed with technology and available in three zesty models, the TLX is Acura\'s most intriguing sedan in ages.

The TLX is the proverbial car that Acura needs right now. (Read: Yesterday) They've played ball and come away with a few base hits in the form of the MDX and RDX crossovers, a foul ball with the ILX, and a strikeout with the curiously designed ZDX. While they hope the upcoming NSX is a grand slam, in the meantime the company is looking for a home run in the form of the TLX, which will replace both the TSX and TL.

Technological motivation

After success in the SUV/CUV segment, the company is rightly turning its attention to sedans. Apparently the buying public has been chomping at the bit, because Acura says it has over 40,000 hand-raisers who have expressed interest in a new "Red Carpet Athlete” luxury/performance four-door. With the TLX, their prayers have hopefully been answered.

Loaded with tech, the TLX is available with two engines, two new transmissions and a choice of front- or all-wheel-drive. The base engine is a direct-injected 2.4-liter iVTEC four-cylinder, which makes 206 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 182 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. That mill is joined by a direct-injected 3.5-liter iVTEC V6 that produces 290 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. The V6 is also equipped with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), which gives it the ability to shut down three cylinders once it achieves cruising speed, all in an attempt to squeeze every drop from a gallon of gas.

The FWD-only four is mated to what Acura claims is the world's first eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (8DCT) with a torque converter. The gearbox is equipped with what Acura calls Sequential SportShift for "ultra-quick” shifts and rev-matching, while the torque converter helps to smooth out any residual shift-shock, and at the same time provide quicker off-the-line acceleration than a normal dual clutch tranny is typically capable of.

The four-cylinder model is also fitted with Precision All Wheel Steering (P-AWS), which helps to artificially shorten the car's length during low speed maneuvering, and conversely lengthens it during high speed driving for added stability. Executed through steerable rear wheels, it changes the toe angle of the tires for added handling precision.

The 3.5-liter V6 engine is exclusively mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, and in FWD form, it too features P-AWS. Based on a design by ZF, Acura claims the nine-speed shifts five times faster than the outgoing six-speed automatic transmissions and is 66 pounds lighter to boot. Quickness is paramount, and Acura says it enjoys a 0.5-second improvement in zero-to-60 mph times. Operated by Electronic Gear Selector buttons instead of a conventional gearshift lever, it includes a pull-up for reverse switch, which should obviate any accidental engagement.

Buyers in the Snowbelt, or those who desire extra traction, can order the TLX with Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD). Now 25 percent lighter than the previous generation, it can send up to 70 percent of the torque to the rear wheels and allows for greater torque vectoring than before. All models ride on the typical MacPherson front/multi-link rear suspension with amplitude reactive dampers to adjust the ride on the fly. Acura's Agile Handling Assist is on board to help the car shorten itself through a turn via what the company describes as a process similar to brake vectoring.

The TLX SH-AWD includes idle-stop capabilities for improved fuel economy. While others may call the device an ECO start/stop or some such other thing, the TLX includes an Active Control engine mount to reduce the harshness that many competitors face when they refire.

As if all of this is not enough, Acura managed to pack in a selection of modes as part of their Integrated Dynamics System, which offers ECON, Normal, Sport and Sport+ settings. They are used to personalize such parameters as steering effort, throttle mapping, shift logic and P-AWS or SH-AWD settings.

Moving targets

We had a chance to drive all three flavors of TLX ranging from the 2.4- and 3.5-liter versions both equipped with P-AWS as well as the 3.5-liter with SH-AWD, and found each to be a worthy competitor to their targeted competition, including the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS, Audi A4, and BMW 3-series. In other words, the usual suspects. Nearly all have undergone a visual transformation with new looks that push the envelope just a little further.

From the ‘can-opener' grill to the signature Jewel-Eye LED headlamps on each side, the looks of the TLX are unmistakable. Made up of high strength hot-stamped steel, aluminum, and magnesium, the TLX features new acoustical foam insulation that is blown in at various points around the body to seal potential air gaps and deaden sound at the same time. Add to that, smart use of sheetmetal and the utilization of acoustic glass, and you end up with a car that we found to be as quiet as many vehicles that check in at more than double the TLX's price.

Accommodations

The 2015 TLX is a five-passenger sports sedan with improved seating that is as conservative as it is functional. While not a pair of thrones that you would find in an Italian exotic, they do their part to hold occupants in place while driving. Soft touch material is all around, and is contrasted by glossy Zebra-wood veneer and aluminum-look bright pieces that dress up the cockpit nicely. We found the steering wheel just a bit over-done, but did enjoy the very logical use of rollers to increase or decrease the audio and Bluetooth volume.

Our Advance package equipped 3.5 SH-AWD TLX included Siri Eyes Free functionality which combines the 490-watt, 10-speaker ELS audio system by Grammy award-winning sound engineer Elliot Scheiner, with a smartphone hookup that allows the use of Siri to answer a question, set up a calendar date and more from an Apple iPhone. The sound pumped out highs, lows and midtones all day long. Along the way, the TLX's Active Noise- and Active Sound Control systems helped, with microphones and sensors to cancel out any unwanted sound intrusions to the cabin.

Safety takes no back seat in the TLX either, with a suite of AcuraWatch driver assists on board. Camera and sensor based, they watch and alert drivers to possible encounters of the wrong kind and show the images on the eight-inch display in the dash binnacle above the center console. The Road Departure Mitigation System (RDMS) reads painted lane stripes to apply steering and brake assistance when it senses lane drift. With Rear Cross Traffic Monitoring (RCTM), it uses blindspot sensors to detect vehicles approaching from either side. Forward Collision Warning (FCW) presents a visual and audible alert to an impending situation ahead. Combined with Acura's Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), which is a mouthful in anyone's book, it scans upcoming road for potential obstacles and engages emergency braking as needed by the on-board cameras and sensors. Finally, Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS) all do their part to help a driver avoid potential mishaps that occur from lane drift.

Drive Time

Sampling all three flavors of TLX, we found the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder mill offered brisk acceleration that will satisfy the bulk of shoppers considering the sedan. The eight-speed DCT transmission provided flawless shifting during our time in the car, and we were jazzed to find a double-step down paddle shift operation while hoofing it in Sport+ mode. The P-AWS enabled precision steering and stability while driving through the foothills of West Virginia. The EPA says to expect 24 city/35 highway mpg with a combined 28 mpg average, which Acura says is tops for the segment.

The 3.5-liter V6 with front wheel drive was a much smoother power plant that gave the TLX the confidence of a true luxury sport sedan. Shifting from the nine-speed transmission was ultra smooth throughout the range and the three-cylinder variable cylinder management system operated in a seamless fashion to the point we were not even aware it was occurring. The P-AWS system provided a noticeable boost to stability.

Adding the SH-AWD to the top of the line model found us traversing at high speed on Virginia horse country back roads. While this all-wheel-drive version is not P-AWS-equipped, it uses the torque vectoring and torque braking of Acura Agile Handling Assist to accomplish the same effect as though the TLX was seemingly running on rails. Incidentally, the 3.5-liter Direct-Injected V6 with P-AWS achieves an EPA estimated 21 city/34 highway mpg with 25 mpg combined, while the all-wheeler SH-AWD is good for 21 city/31 highway mpg with 25 mpg combined. That's an improvement of +3 miles city and +4 miles highway over the outgoing SH-AWD-equipped TL.

Leftlane's bottom line:

When Acura officials described to us their intention of building a luxury sport sedan that they themselves would be excited to drive, we knew their hearts were well-intentioned, but it wasn't clear if they could pull it off. After spending time behind the wheel, we think they've achieved their goal, creating an attractive, technologically-advanced package that's a compelling alternative to the segment stalwarts.

This is exactly the sedan that Acura needed.

2015 Acura TLX 2.4 base price, $30,9952015 Acura TLX 2.4 Tech Package, $350252015 Acura TLX 3.5 base price, $35,2202015 Acura TLX 3.5 Tech Package, $39,2502015 Acura TLX 3.5 Advance Package, $42,5002015 Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD Tech Package, $41,4502015 Acura TLX 3.5 SH-AWD Advance Package, $44,700

Photos by Mark Elias.

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